Ex Machina: Spoiler-free review
In the era of the mega-blockbuster, a film like Ex Machina deserves something more than a clichéd “it’s a breath of fresh air”, but that’s very much what it is: a considered, thoughtful, dare I say deliberate film with nary a caped hero, exploding semi or demolished city to be found. It is very much a science fiction story, however, with strains of Blade Runner, A-I, and most intriguingly, 2001: A Space Odyssey throughout its DNA. It manages to keep your attention in the most old fashion of ways despite its futuristic storyline: through excellent storytelling, good to exceptional acting performances, and powerful cinematography.
At the center of the action is Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a programmer at a technology giant who is invited to the secluded retreat of his brilliant and enigmatic boss Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Nathan, a kind of a bro’d up Dr. Moreau, drinks himself to sleep each night and lives in a subterranean research facility accessible only by helicopter. Caleb is summoned to the facility to act as the human component in a Turing testing involving Nathan’s latest creation, an A-I robot named Ava, wonderfully portrayed by Alicia Vikander.
Vikander, rendered on-screen as half human, half robot, is the real star of the film. The CGI here is quite stunning, and combined with Vikander’s performance, really sells you on the plausibility of Ava’s existence. Writer and director Alex Garland focuses the majority of the interaction between Caleb and Ava, and, even more compelling at times, the relationship between Caleb and Nathan. Garland masterfully contrasts the confining, claustrophobic underground setting of the lab with the expansive, isolated terrain of rivers, mountains, and glaciers that surrounds it, while the story turns on questions of the morality of A-I, data mining, and psychological manipulation.
I truly did enjoy Ex Machina very much, but I fully admit that I might have overrated it slightly based on its uniqueness. It drags slightly at times, and Gleeson isn’t totally believable as a 20-something New Yorker despite his admirable attempts to disguise his native Irish brogue. His performance is more than fine, however, and only illuminates exceptional turns from Isaac and Vikander, the latter most especially. Ex Machina is an original, compelling film that dares to slow down and engage you on the basis of its story and understated visuals, rather than its pedigree, source material, or body count, and that is a quality all too rare in the age of the cinematic universe.
JLo’s rating (out of 10): 8.5 (Highly recommended)